Taking a look at corporate teambuilding on sailboats

By Gregory Marlo

When learning to sail, one becomes distinctly aware very early in the game that the coordination of steering and adjustment of the sails while harnessing the wind’s energy is what makes it all happen. Understanding the principles of sailing a boat is not difficult and can be fun to learn in a corporate teambuilding environment.

In the training exercise, using well equipped late model sailboats with a single mast and two sails and working with groups of six to 12 participants per boat, the crew first explains the operation of setting sails and helming. These sailboats have up to four operational positions including the helm, port and starboard jib winches along with the main sail. Each participant has the opportunity to try each position after a thorough explanation and demonstration from the crew. Demonstrating and then handing over the boat operation can happen over a few hours.
corporate teambuilding on sailboats
When it comes to corporate teambuilding, taking staff out of the office environment, teaching them something new while having fun with their fellow workers that they may or may not have had a chance to work with, has a lot of advantages. In order for the sailboat to operate best, all positions need to work in coordination with each other. If the angle of the boat to the wind is not ideal with the position of the sails, the boat’s speed is not optimized. However when a sailboat under some wind has sails trimmed and is set on a course with good speed and the boat keeled, one can feel the power of the wind powering thousands of pounds of vessel at a good clip. It is an exhilarating yet challenging experience for the group. The participants can witness their efforts coming together as they all work towards a common ideal. This is ideally how we want people to feel and behave in the corporate environment.

Normally we divide participants into teams of three to four. The first hour is spent demonstrating and talking about the boat operations. After the initial hour, team members each get a chance to be at the helm and feel how the boat handles in various conditions.

After everyone has had an opportunity to practice all the positions, we plan a lunch stop. Usually a nice sheltered anchoring spot where the opportunity for more questions, some relaxation while eating, taking in the scenery and enjoying the water all come together. This also ends up being an excellent time for the crew to review some boating terms with the team(s). Once again the team all participates in recalling what terms like the boat’s bow, stern, galley, head, port, starboard, winch handle, jib, main sheet, lines, halyards and boom mean.

On the way back when using multiple boats, a regatta (sailboat race) allows the team to strategize how they will man the boat and their course to the finish with the best route and most speed. The crew is typically not allowed to assist at the controls at this time (unless to avoid a dangerous situation) but rather coaches the team and makes recommendations. It is interesting to observe how quickly these newcomers to sailing offer each other assistance and listen attentively to the commands coming from the helm.

There is always an emphasis on safety, from the initial briefing to everyone wearing life jackets while keeping a close eye on weather conditions. Crew members are well experienced and keen to show others facts about the sailboat and how to sail. Their enthusiasm and affinity for sailing certainly shows through and is passed onto the participants. I’m sure there are some that develop an interest to go on to get further training and their sailing certifications.

The participants will usually talk about the experience for days and weeks. We promote picture taking, and many companies will have a designated photographer come along. Hopefully it leaves a great recollection with workmates, along with a sense of accomplishment and the competitive spirit of trying to win the regatta. All this while learning something new that is fun and rewarding. For those that love the water, the setting is ideal, and for our outings in Toronto, the skyline provides a view of the city that is breath-taking all on its own. The feedback from the participants and management afterwards is wonderful.

Compared to most corporate teambuilding events, this venue has a lot to offer that is unique yet remains very effective in what it promises to deliver. It builds camaraderie, respect, and understanding of the benefits of working as a team. This may be one of the best four- to five-hour teambuilding sessions that companies can invest in. For those companies that are sensitive to environmental concerns, this activity is greener than most and therefore also favourable to that aspect of today’s corporate culture and mission.

About the author

Greg Marlo is the founder of YACHT Solutions and is an active sailor and powerboat captain. He loves to share his passion for yachting with others so they too can enjoy the experience. Specializing in luxury sailing and motor yacht charters in the Greater Toronto Area and to some of the best destinations around the world, YACHT Solutions provides a complete charter service to the yacht enthusiast or corporate client. YACHT Solutions maintains an extensive network of yachts and charter operators worldwide administered by a team of specialists.

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